Fort Worth's ambulance service is replacing its fleet to accommodate the growing number of overweight patients.
Medstar is converting its older Ford chassis to heavier Chevys, which cost $7,000 more but can carry an additional 800 pounds, said Matt Zavadsky, Medstar associate operations director.
"It's built to carry the extra weight and not be so saggy," he said.
Paramedics don't keep statistics on patients' weight, but Zavadsky said the national trend toward larger waistlines holds true here.
"I can tell you -- no pun intended -- it's growing," he said.
Medstar made the decision last year to put larger frames on its 54 ambulances. The "boxes" on top -- where patients are treated -- remain the same.
The ambulance service has also transitioned to a larger stretcher, which can carry patients up to 650 pounds. The old ones were limited to 500 pounds.
Paramedics have new procedures for buckling in overweight patients. They lower the side rails, which can be uncomfortable for large people, and attach strap extenders to the existing buckles, Zavadsky said.
"And now we've got all this room," he said as he demonstrated the technique.
Last year, 220 patients had to be transported on a special bariatric cot, which is designed for the extremely obese.
Medstar began the transition to the newer chassis last year and expects to finish by the end of this year.
The larger ambulances have other benefits as well, such as a smoother ride and the ability to carry an extra oxygen tank, Zavadsky said.
In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 28.7 percent of Texans were obese.
Obesity is defined as a body mass index of 30 or higher. BMI is measured by a person's weight and height.
"In the last 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States," the CDC said on its website.
"It's a trend that's probably going to continue, and we're going to have to take additional steps in the future," Zavadsky said.